Crowfall

More like Crowfail.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Crowfall for the last few days. Let’s start with my opinion on the game: Crowfall is too fucking expensive to be worth playing. And when I say expensive, I mean both in terms of money and time.

If you want, you can close this article now, because the rest of it is going to be an extensive exercise in dead horse beating. If you’re still here, please grab your stick and join me.

I’d tolerate the mediocre graphics if the gameplay had any redeeming features. It doesn’t.

I want to start by talking about the easiest part of Crowfall to quantify: the simple monetary cost. Crowfall is $40, and it also has a monthly VIP system that costs about $15 a month. This puts it about on par in terms of pure cost with its competitors. Final Fantasy 14 is $60 for the full game with 4 expansions, and a required monthly subscription of about $15. World of Warcraft is $40, and also $15 a month plus the incalculable cost of knowing you’re supporting Activision-Blizzard, making it cost effectively infinite money. New World is $40 and the knowledge that you’re adding Jeff Bezos’s draconic horde of wealth.

So yeah, Crowfall is currently priced up there with a game that had more players on launch day than Crowfall has had estimated players total. And before you ask why I don’t have a better source for numbers, it’s because the devs turned that part of the API off.

This is a problem, because on a scale of “Virtual Disneyland” to “Digital Version of Detroit,” Crowfall is the latter. It wants to be a hardcore PVP game, with fights for territory, resources, and areas going on constantly. It has castles and landmarks that you can build up and guilds to join. As soon as you’re out of the pure tutorial world, when you die you drop 50% of your gold.

In the normal world, when you die, you drop half your inventory.

I have a bunch of small problems with Crowfall, but I have small problems with almost every game, so I’m going to talk about the big problem I have with Crowfall: the game expects you to do everything with other people. And not just a few other people, a lot of other people.

Let me give an example: One of Crowfall’s big ideas is that you are a “Crow,” a semi-immortal soul repeatedly brought back to life by the gods in order to fight for them. In terms of in-game mechanics, this means that to level up past a given point, you need to get and fuse with a new body.

Getting these bodies requires that you start by digging up body parts. In order to do this and get anything that’s not garbage, you’ll need the grave digger discipline. I believe it counts as an exploration discipline (more on that later). However, in addition to that discipline, which is a socketable rune, you’ll actually want an upgraded version of the grave digger, which you get by… farming random rune drops from digging up corpses. This requires you to have an intermediate shovel at a minimum, which means you’ll need to craft yourself a shovel, then upgrade it, which means you’ll need to mine and quarry stone, because those two are different. Once you have your upgraded rune that you got from RNG and upgrading (and you’ll need to socket Runecraft to actually upgrade it, I believe) you can actually start grinding again. Now, when you’ve finished grinding, you’ll have the body parts. You can’t use them yet, of course, you need to remake them. This means combining them with some other body parts, and also Ambrosia, which you’ll need an alchemist to make. Now that you’ve got all your body parts collected, you can finally combine them into a new vessel.

Hooray! Did I mention that doing this requires that you collect the right type of each body part for the right race of character that you want to create?

So why are we doing all of this? Well, because without doing it, you can’t actually play in a Shadows World, which is to say the big boy world. Up until then, you’ll play in what is basically a tutorial world. That’s right, this multi-step process just to create a character is more or less before you can actually start playing the full game.

Remember how I said we’d come back to that bit about minor disciplines? Well, you can only actually have two equipped at once, and you can only change them out in a temple. Long story short, there’s no reasonable way to do all of what I described above as a single person, or even a pair. You’ll need a guild or another group to work with. Without one, you’ll most likely have to stay in the beginner world, where drop rates are lower, and buildings seem to reset daily.

Now, it’s entirely possible you read all of this, and go “Wow, that seems like the game for me!” And maybe it is. Maybe you’re all excited about PvP, farming for random items for hours, and ganking other players.

One tiny problem: remember how I mentioned the devs hiding the player count up above? Well, that might be because the servers are incredibly fucking dead. In my time spent during the trial, I feel like I saw less than 30 players total outside of the spawn area.

Yeah, the game is not highly populated.

I have some other problems as well. The auto-attacks put all of your other abilities on cooldown, making combat super frustrating. The number of enemy types in PVE are really low. There’s no form of inventory sorting, meaning that your inventory more or less ends up looking like Minecraft. Speaking of mining, your auto attack and your harvesting abilities are bound to same key, so if you don’t click on that boulder correctly, you’re now in combat until that cooldown wears off in a few seconds. Oh, and if you try to put items of a type you already have into your bank, but don’t have an empty bank slot, you can’t. Even though you already have those items in your bank.

So yeah. Crowfall is an attempt at a sandbox, heavy player interaction MMO, but because there’s nobody playing it, and it takes forever to do anything. It’s filled with small annoyances, and systems that don’t feel fun (I’m looking at you, obscenely fast gear decay). Some of its ideas are decent, but on those bones sits nothing of interest.

All this to say: I don’t recommend.

Storybook Brawl

Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto-battler, even though I don’t like how it’s monetized at the moment.

I like Storybook Brawl. There are a few things about it that I find a little annoying, but otherwise I think it’s pretty fun. Oh right, I’m supposed to explain what Storybrook Brawl is: it’s a card-drafting auto battler.

For anyone who read that and went “Okay, cool” you can skip the next few paragraphs. For the other 98% of the population who can’t understand an entire game from 2 jargony phrases, let me explain what “Card Drafting” and “Auto Battling” is, and how they’re used in Storybook Brawl.

“Card Drafting” first. At the start of the game, and after each combat, you’re given some gold to buy with, and a row of several units to buy. If you don’t like any of the units available, you can also spend gold to reroll your shop’s selection. While this does leave you with less gold, since gold doesn’t carry over between rounds, you generally want to spend it all.

As the game goes on, your hero will level up and this center pool will include more powerful units. Generally speaking, you only get one experience point per round, but there a few spells that can accelerate leveling up and being able to buy better units.

Oh, we haven’t talked about spells have we? Unless a spell says otherwise, you can cast one spell per round. They have a variety of effects, from random damage on enemy units, to permanent buffs to your own units. Just like units, you get access to more expensive and powerful spells as your hero levels up.

You’ll have about 60 seconds or so to do all of your drafting. At the start of the game 60 seconds tends to be a lot of time to make your drafting decisions. But by the end of the game, where there are more decisions and choices piling up, you usually need all your time.

After that 60 seconds passes, we get to what an “Auto Battler” is. At this point, whatever lineup you’ve managed to create gets matched up against another player’s lineup, and going from top left to bottom right, your units take turns attacking each other. Whoever runs out of units first is the loser, and takes damage equal to… the opposing player’s current level plus the levels of their units that remain on the board. If your thought is “Huh, that equation doesn’t seem super intuitive,” I’d agree. When you run out of health, you lose, and games continue until only one player is left.

Okay, so I’m running out of energy to write this article, and we still haven’t actually talked about any of the unit cards themselves, or treasure, or tripling, or keywords. So I’m gonna burn through them, and then see if my editor tells me that I haven’t covered the mechanics enough.

First up, units! The game has quite a few. I’m going to talk about just one keyword that units can have as it’s my favorite example of something interesting the game does: Slay. Slay is a triggerable keyword that occurs whenever the unit attacks and kills another unit. The important bit here is “Attacks.” If a unit with slay is attacked, and kills the other unit on the defense, that doesn’t trigger the keyword. Using slay effectively means either gambling that your unit will get the first attack, or buffing it high enough to be able to take a hit, and smash back.

Next up: Tripling. When you draft three copies of a unit, those three copies combine into a higher level version of that unit with better stats, and if that unit has an ability, a stronger version of that ability. This is where another neat part of the game comes into play. When the units combine, any buffs that they had as single units also merge onto the upgraded unit. This means that a unit that was decently statted with a few buffs can suddenly become an absolute powerhouse.

The other big thing that happens when you triple a unit is that you get a treasure. You can have up to three treasures at any given point in time. If you’d get a 4th one, you have to choose between throwing out one of your current ones, or skipping the new one.

There’s one more bit mechanic, so let’s talk about heroes. Choosing a hero is the first thing that happens each round, but I’ve saved it for last because it’s also one of my few big gripes with the game.

At the very start of the game, you’re offered a choice of 4 heroes, of which two will automatically be unlocked, and 2 might be unlocked. How big an impact your chosen hero will have on the game can vary quite heavily. Some, like my personal favorite, Morgan Le Fae have almost no impact on your drafting selections, while others can change the cards you want to draft massively. Peter Pan is biggest offender of the second category.

The issue I have with this system is two-fold. First off, I don’t really like that my strategy for a round can end up feeling defined by hero selection. And secondly, I really don’t like how this ties in with the monetization. Remember when I mentioned that you’ll be given a choice of 4 heroes, but can only pick from two of the four guaranteed? That’s because the last 2 are only selectable if you’ve either spent real money to unlock them, or the in-game currency of dust. So while the game isn’t directly “P2W”, it does end up feeling “Pay for More Options.”

I don’t hate this enough to stop playing but it doesn’t feel good.

And that’s Storybook Brawl! Except I didn’t talk about how the various archetypes work together with each other really smoothly. Or how the Good/Evil keyword is really interesting as a sort of Boolean typing on a given unit that can be on any unit, but can only be in one of the states at once. Or how the prince/princess meta is absolute cancer at the moment and King Arthur needs to be nerfed again.

Winning in Storybook Brawl ends up being a combination of unit placement, drafting ability, and yes, some luck. But it feels less random than other auto battlers I’ve played because there’s more synergy between various archetypes of units present.

The end result is that Storybook Brawl is a very solid auto battler, even though I don’t quite like how it’s monetized at the moment. If any of what I’ve described above sounds interesting, I encourage you to download it here on Steam, and give it a shot.

MUCK

Muck isn’t great, but at least it’s free.

Muck is worth playing as an example of how compelling various roguelike elements and open-world survival games can be, even when done in a mediocre context. With that said, I think Risk of Rain 2 is a better 3D roguelike, and Minecraft is a better open-world crafting game. Maybe because Muck was made as a joke. Okay, let’s step back for a minute.

Despite the fact that we live in 2021, people apparently still write rude YouTube comments. I’m not sure why they do this. There are only two possible outcomes when you write a rude YouTube comment:

  1. No one sees your comment, no one cares, and you scream into the void.
  2. Someone sees your comment, and they feel bad for a moment.
  3. Someone sees your comment, and decides to dunk on you as hard as feasibly possible.

Muck is an example of #3.

I’m going to link the video here, all you really need to know is that Muck was made quickly, mostly to make a silly video, and now has been played a whole bunch.

I’ve only played about 5 hours of Muck, but I’m still going to write about it, because I’ll be damned if I don’t get something out of those five hours.

I don’t think Muck is bad, it’s more that it just isn’t very polished in any respect, which all things considered, kind of makes sense. To my mind, the game has more in common with roguelikes than crafting/open world survival games. I say this because in my experience, you don’t actually spend a lot of time building bases or structures like you might in say, Valheim.

Instead, you’ll toss up a few walls, build your crafting stations, and then desperately scramble around looking for food, supplies, and powerups before night falls, and enemies attack. If you’re playing multiplayer, there might be some division of labor on who exactly is trying to find what, but it’s basically a non-stop rush to get lumber to craft a workbench to craft a pick to mine rocks to make a furnace to smelt ore to…. you can probably see where I’m going with this. In any case, at some point, you’ll notice the sun has gone down, and you’re being mauled by goblins. Or wolf-shaped things. Or what appears to be a flying anemic dragon.

If you manage to kill them, they’ll drop some gold, which you can spend to open chests containing permanent buffs, similar to Risk of Rain. If I had any actual complaints, it would be that these buffs tend to be fairly dull, such as faster move speed, faster attack speed, more damage, etc. Nothing about them really lends itself toward being build-defining, or letting you choose a playstyle.

At some point you’ll either die, and restart this entire process (or just quit), or you’ll build up enough weapons and armor to start actually trying to beat the game. Unlike many other games in this genre, Muck actually does have an ending. You win by beating a few bosses, collecting some gems from them, repairing a boat with said gems plus a bunch of other supplies, and choosing to leave. Then there’s a final boss fight, which might just utterly shred you if you get unlucky.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about combat in Muck, and that’s because it’s as barebones as it feasibly could be. You have swords, you hit people with them, and you move away from them when they do an attack to dodge their backswing. Some enemies shoot projectiles.

And that’s pretty much everything that makes up Muck. I don’t have too much to say on it. Its a free, incredibly barebones randomly generated survival game with roguelike elements. It doesn’t do anything incredible, but it’s also not trying or claiming to do anything incredible. There are worse ways to spend your time, and all the better ones cost money. If you’re really bored, and everyone in your friend group refuses to buy new games ever, consider grabbing Muck for free on Steam.

MTG Arena – Historic Brawl Best Cards

The best cards until Wizard prints better ones, or half the list gets banned from the format.

Ah, Monday. The first and worst day of the week, when you realize that you really should have been productive over the weekend, and instead spent the entire thing playing games, lazing about, eating jalapeno naan, then chugging milk to try to stop the burning.

Maybe that’s just me.

In any case, you get to Monday, you realize you haven’t written an article for the week, so you end up trying to throw together some Buzzfeed-esque listicle to stall for time. Look on the bright side though: this article has no ads, and isn’t click-arbitraging!

  1. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Ugin gets the #1 spot on this list for a very simple reason: He’s a colorless boardwipe. In a format with a limited amount of control and board wipes, he gives every single deck access to a powerful amount of control, and every single other one of his abilities is strong as well. He’s also not banned in every other format, unlike a large majority of this list.

  1. Command Tower/Arcane Signet
    I’m putting these here as a pair, because they’re effectively the exact same thing: mana production in your commander’s colors. The only reason to not run both of them is because your deck is mono-color.
  1. Solemn Simulacrum
    Colorless land ramp, card draw, and a 2/2, all for 4 mana. Like Ugin, Solemn Simulacrum gets its spot on the list because it slots into pretty much any Historic Brawl deck.
  1. Field of the Dead
    Banned in Historic. Banned in Brawl. Banned in Standard. In theory, a card that makes you a 2/2 zombie every time you put a land into play while you control 7 differently named lands isn’t this good. But with the length of Brawl games, it’s just a powerhouse. Of cards on this list, I’d hold off on crafting this one primarily because I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets banned from Historic Brawl.
  1. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
    Golos is an entirely reasonable card in every other format. In Historic Brawl, he’s one of only 9 five color commanders, and one of two colorless five color commanders. Combine this with his land fetching, and his activated ability, and you have arguably the single best five-color commander in the format. Golos is a Solemn Simulacrum on crack. It’s worth keeping in mind that Golos was banned in Brawl, so you may want to wait on crafting him. Or maybe craft him now before he gets banned. Regardless, arguably one of the best commanders.
  1. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
    I’d like to think the creation process for Uro went something like this:
    MTG Designer A: All right, so growth spiral is a perfectly reasonable card.
    MTG Designer B: Sure.
    MTG Designer A: But what if it was also a 6/6 Creature that triggered it’s ability each time it entered the battlefield, or attacked?
    MTG Designer B: Wow. That seems like it might be too powerful. We better increase its mana cost by 1 and make it sorcery speed.
    MTG Designer A: Sure. But because it costs so much, you should be able to cast it from the graveyard, and maybe it isn’t a creature unless you do? And maybe it should give you life?
    MTG Designer B: Sounds good to me! Let’s get lunch.
    The end result is this absolute unit.
  1. Wilderness Reclamation
    It turns out untapping all your lands at the end of your turn in addition to the start of your turn is pretty good.
  1. Omnath, Locus of Creation
    I was gonna say that Omnath, Locus of Creation falls into the same space as Golos, but then I went and actually checked, and he really falls into more the same space as Uro, which is “Format warping god-emperor.” Seriously, this motherfucker got banned everywhere. Except Historic Brawl apparently. So enjoy him while he lasts I guess?

I honestly can’t think of anything else to add to this list at the moment, so yeah. Here’s some weekly content. Now go yell at me on Twitter about how I clearly missed Stormcrow, and Golos is trash because he dies to removal.

Back 4 Blood Beta

My friends review the Back 4 Blood beta so I don’t have to!

Back 4 Blood can’t seem to decide if it’s a spiritual sequel to Left 4 Dead or not. On the one hand, the marketing, dev team, aesthetics, all scream Left 4 Dead. On the other hand, the subreddit for the game keeps saying that it’s unfair to compare to the two, c’mon guys.

If you haven’t played Left 4 Dead, here’s a brief overview of the structure of the game. You play as a group of 4 survivors, you start in a safehouse, and try to make it to the next safehouse while shooting, beating and running from the undead. I think the shortest way to describe it would be “Co-Op Horde Shooter”. In addition to the normal zombies, there are special infected who have a few special abilities, you have the ability to res your friends when they get downed, and you have to manage ammo.

B4B adds a few systems, including a stamina system shared by melee and sprinting, and a card system that seems sort of like a rouge-like. Oh, and attachments for your guns. Cool. Overview done, lets get to the reviewing.

I think the Back 4 Blood beta is garbage. The thing is, I haven’t really even played the game, and I don’t like the genre, so I figured I’d ask my other friends I played with for their feedback. So let’s see what these other folks thought, shall we?

Stop comparing it to Left 4 Dead guys, that’s not a fair comparison! It’s just marketed the same, and by the people who made Left 4 Dead.

Person 1 – Likes the genre. 100+ hours between the various Killing Floor games. Unknown amount of time in Left 4 Dead.

“It’s not worth $60 and the things that are missing are fundamental. The net-code sucks, there’s a crazy amount of rubber banding, all the time. Bot AI sucks. This game requires you to have 4 people that contribute at least to a minimum amount, and the AI is so garbage, it simply can’t pick up the slack.

Matchmaking sucks, it takes forever, and matches you into games that are literally just ending, or about to run out of continues. Lobbies closing also seem bad, cause when you run out of continues, the game just kicks you out. Reload animations are kind of jerky.

A lot of the weapons feel like they need more balance. I do like that the hitboxes for the head are massive, like twice as large as the head and I like the new systems they’ve added. The card system is neat, I really like the stamina and melee system. The problem is, though, even if the new systems are cool, the fundamentals to making the game fun just aren’t there. I’d pay no more than $20 for it in its current state.”

Person 2

“I love it, but the bots need to be infinitely better. Matchmaking just kind of sucks right now,but I’m sure it will be fine eventually. Netcode feels awful, you rubberband like shit. I know some people complain about gunplay, but I think that’s pretty good. You should be able to remove attachments from guns. Difficulty scaling needs tuning. Feels like there needs to be 4 difficulties instead of three. AI director is kind of shit. I like the card system, and the ways to build into classes. Telling specials apart is hard.”

Update: This individual is still pre-ordering the game.

Person 3 –

“The two minutes of gameplay that I got to see between two hours of disconnecting, uninstalling the game, and then trying to launch the game on anything but the lowest settings was okay I guess.”

So, there you have it. The Gametrodon survey. I had more fun shooting my friends with guns in the rifle range than I did in any of the missions I played. So yeah. Right now, I absolutely won’t be buying Back 4 Blood based on the beta. It was just kind of trash, and since it comes out in three months, I really don’t expect it to get that much better.

Pokémon: Unite

You can skip Pokémon: Unite, unless you’re a massive sucker for anything Pokémon related. Like I am.

For me, the ultimate test of any licensed game consists of two very simple questions:

  1. Would I play this game if it didn’t have the licensed branding?

    And
  2. Am I going to play it anyway, because I am a consumer whore?

For the best sort of licensed game, such as something like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, the answer to question 1 is a solid “Yes.” This is something I can say with confidence because I’ve been playing a bunch of Shiren the Wanderer, and it kicks ass. Then we have stuff like Pokken, which is more of a “Sorta,”(but it’s not because the game is bad, just because I don’t really play fighting games).

On the flip side, we have games like Magic: Legends, which gets a solid double “No.”

And then in the middle, we have things like Disgaea: RPG, and, the actual topic of this article, Pokémon: Unite.

I am a sucker for pretty much anything Pokémon. This doesn’t mean I’m 100% “Consume Product,” but if there is something Pokémon related, and it doesn’t cost me money to try it, I probably will.

I’m not sure how long I’ll play Pokémon: Unite for. It honestly might be less than a week. The primary reason to play it over something else is that it’s on the Switch, it’s Pokémon themed… and that’s about it.

The main reason is that while the theming, sound, graphics, etc are charming, the gameplay itself is lacking any incredible moments, and the meta-progression/economy is absolute garbage. Also, I have some problems with its informational display, but at least my UI complaints are correctable.

Let’s start with the gameplay: Pokémon: Unite brings exactly one new interesting idea to the MOBA genre, and that is the victory condition/scoring. Instead of towers or ancients to destroy, there are a series of hoops. You gain score by collecting points, and then convert those points into score by channeling at these hoops. So the basic loop is: build up points by KOing wild Pokémon, go to a hoop, channel and score. It’s an interesting mechanic that leads to some neat tension. And that last sentence right there is a the nicest thing I’m gonna say about the game for the rest of this article.

Okay, this isn’t a great combat screenshot. The UI usually isn’t this busy, but it’s the one I have.

The rest of the game feels fairly standard, like a dumbed down version of Heroes of the Storm. There are a few different maps, with different layouts, but similar objectives. Your hero champion Pokémon have an auto-attack, two specials, an ultimate that takes 8 years to charge, and a summoner spell battle item. In either case, the end result is that in any fight, you have effectively two activatable moves, but I’ve yet to see a situation where it doesn’t feel like I’d want to just spam them. There’s no mana cost to discourage you from doing so, and the cooldowns for the moves are fairly short.

I can’t believe it’s not flash!

The end result is a game that feels bland, to the point that I’m bored with writing about how boring it can be. So let’s move on to the next part of the game that sucks: meta-progression.

Everything about the game’s meta-progression is garbage, and I can summarize why I hate the system in two sentences.

Unless you want to spend real money, unlocking a new character costs between 6000 and 10000 gold. The maximum amount of gold you can earn in a week from winning random battles is 2140.

Yes, you can get more gold from doing quests, and limited time events. Yes, you can get gold by leveling up your trainer level. Yes, you can get gold by finishing the tutorials, or doing some weird slot machine thing. It doesn’t matter. The core point is that the game is designed to be an absolute slog for grinding out the ability to play more characters, leveling up equipment, etc.

The game feels like a cheap mobile game, in the sense that it’s designed to make you log on to do your dailies, to build the habit of playing a few matches, and then leaving. Instead of having you come back for the gameplay, or exciting updates, you’ll come back because if you do for just a few more weeks, you can unlock a new character! Or you could just spend like $10, and get them right now!

Oh, and it has a premium currency, bonus boosters, a battle pass, and just about every other feasible way short of straight up gacha. The game even has a kinda gacha in its energy roulette system, but at least you can’t directly pay money for it.

Oh, and while we’re at it, I have one last big gripe. Keywords, description, functionality and stats. Every attack in the game is something like this:

Secondary gripe: why do I have to confirm moves being upgraded when I get them? Just upgrade them! Don’t make me press buttons twice.

And then we have items in the game that look like this:

40 SPEED UNITS OF SPEED

Do you see it? Or perhaps more specifically, do you not see it? “It” in this case, being any sort of useful information/way to measure the actual numbers/damage/etc that your character can do in a game? Because I sure don’t. At least this one they can probably fix, but why isn’t it there already?

Pokémon: Unite isn’t awful, but it isn’t very good. There are better games to play on the Switch, better MOBAs to play in general, and better Pokémon spinoffs. If for some reason after all this, you still want to play it, it’s Switch exclusive right now, so just go find it on the eShop.

What is… Deep Rock Galactic?

Rock and Stone, Brother!

Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative PvE first-person shooter. You and your friends are a team of space dwarves, mining ore among the stars. The core game is about you and your team of up to four other players trying to complete whatever dig you’ve signed up for this time. While the game does have procedurally generated maps and a variety of mission objects, the thing that sets it apart is how it handles its classes.

Deep Rock Galactic breaks away from the Holy Trinity of Heals, DPS, and Tank. Instead, any player can play any role when needed. The added spice is that each class also excels uniquely via pure utility by environment interaction.

The game’s four classes are the Engineer, Scout, Gunner, and Driller. Each of the four classes can do great damage, great support, and some form of escape or defensive mitigation for the team. For example, the Engineer has a platform gun that can create platforms in the environment. You can use these platforms to build choke points to funnel glyphids (the game’s bug enemies), or as a safe pad to land on in an emergency escape, or to make a bridge across great divides.

The Scout’s specialty is to provide vision to the team via his flare gun. Without his flare gun you could get surrounded by unseen glyphids in the dark at a moment’s notice. He is the most mobile role of the squad, best for filling in any gaps of defenses or daring rescues. Gunner has the highest sustained firepower, and also the best defensive ability in the game: the bubble shield which blocks projectiles as well as regenerates allied shields. Driller’s specialty is obliterating wide hordes of small glyphids through bombs or fire, or freezing boss enemies, making them stunned and vulnerable for the team to destroy. Driller’s drill gauntlets allows him to make tunnels straight to evac, or shape the terrain to his advantage as well.

There are also general character perks that you can earn that apply to all classes. These upgrades are generally straight increases to damage, survivability or cool new ability that’s always good. When choosing between upgrades of the same tier they are mainly trade offs or side-grades. Deciding which upgrades you want allows you to tailor your dwarf to play your way—which is really fun. If you are a min-maxer, you can look up guides for best upgrade paths to unlock first, but I’d recommend against it. Overall, experimenting with all of the upgrades and discovering what works for you is the most fun for getting longevity from Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a slow burn of a journey and not about getting max power ASAP.   

The game can be played in single player mode but I wouldn’t recommend it. Thankfully, the game enjoys a large player base where you can always find a lobby for whatever mission you want to do.

That said, I found the end game raid missions difficult to do with just random players. These missions are called “Deep Dives” and give out unique loot that can change your class by modifying what your guns do. Some modifications just swap the elemental damage type of the weapon, but others fundamentally alter your gadgets to do something entirely weird and new. For example, one piece of loot makes it so when you shoot your shotgun at the ground, you jump higher. This is just one of tons of possible changes you can apply to your gear, although the limit is one per gear piece so you can’t stack a bunch of modifications on one gun.

Deep Rock Galactic has limitless stuff to unlock, and I imagine it’d take hundreds of hours to unlock all the talents, gear, and cosmetics the game has to offer. The available missions are rather diverse, but you’ll probably find some you like more than others. The game has consistent updates, and is currently in the process of adding a 3rd weapon choice for all classes, as well as doing balance revisions to all current weapons and talents, with an estimated patch release in quarter 3 2021 (sometime between July and end of September).

If this sort of thing sounds exciting to you, here are some my tips for starting off:

  1. Feel free to mix up team compositions. For the most balanced gameplay, 1 of each class seems best, but for some mission types you may feel like more than one of a class might suit it better.
  2. Nothing wrong with taking it slow. When starting out I’d recommend a hazard level 2 or 3 mission at most (hazard levels are just difficulty level: 1 is easy, 2 is normal and so on). Then when you feel like you can handle it, increase hazard levels for better rewards. I’ve played about 90 hours since the launch and promoted each class about once. Personally I wouldn’t recommend trying hazard 5 or higher till you’ve promoted a class… but hey, you do you.
  3. Take advantage of those credits! Deep Rock Galactic has a deep character progression system where the credits and materials you earn from missions can buy tons of upgrades to specialize your class a lot.

I think it’s a gem of a game, and if you had to pitch it to a friend in like 10 seconds, I’d say, “It’s like a co-op shooter like Left 4 Dead, fused with looter-shooter talent leveling and survival game terrain manipulation like Minecraft, but you are an awesome high tech space dwarf squad, killing the zerg Glypids.”

4.5/5 Etrodons is my overall rating. And when you do play the game, remember to hit “V” to ROCK AND STONE, BROTHER!

Magic: Legends is Dead After 4 Months

Goodbye, and good riddance.

I don’t think there’s anything positive or noble about kicking dead horses, or beating men while they’re down, unless they’re into that, and you okay it beforehand. That said, I find the state of Magic: Legends so incredibly funny that I’m gonna do both of those things. Hopefully this will get it all out of my system so I stop talking about Magic: Legends over and over to my friends.

So yeah, Magic: Legends is dead. It lasted just about 4 months, and didn’t even make it out of open beta. Also, the studio behind it is apparently laying a bunch of people off, which sucks. But holy shit, 4 months, and not even out of beta? Misbits lasted longer then that. HEX lasted longer then that. This is a multi-system ARPG, licensed off an incredibly successful game for its world, lore and background, and they couldn’t even keep a beta alive?

What the fuck guys.

We could spend a lot of time speculating about why Magic: Legends failed so incredibly hard. I’m sure someone over at Cryptic is doing that right now, in-between shots of vodka and wondering how much they can pawn the office furniture for. It’s way too easy to construct a narrative that you want to believe, and there are so many things that could have caused the game to fail that it’s an exercise in futility. So let’s do it anyway! Here are a few of my favorite pet theories:

  1. If you make a F2P PC/Console ARPG, you are competing with Path of Exile, which is also free, has no P2W mechanics, and has 8 years of lead time on you. Maybe your game should do like… one thing better then them. Just one. And “Having a licensed property” doesn’t fucking count.
  2. Linking the PC release exclusively to Epic Game store for a GAAS release might be a bad idea. Epic has a lower overall player count, and Epic probably isn’t gonna subsidize a freemium game the same way they can for a game that players just buy once.
  3. MTG is a very successful game. It also has lore. Is that lore as important to its players as, say… the actual game mechanics? My guess would be “No.” Pornography also has a plot and lore. I’ve yet to see a successful non-porn offshoot of Lemon Stealing Whores. (SFW)

Of course, it could be all or none of these! So next, I’m just gonna make a list of things I personally thought were shit about the game:

  1. Graphics and performance. It takes a lot to make me care about graphics. Multiwinia is one of my favorite games. I hated how Magic: Legends looked. And ran.
  2. Awful Gameplay Loops. For real though, the core gameplay loop is an ARPG, a genre where getting cool loot is an important part of the feedback loop. The core feedback loop was “Getting more copies of cards you already own, to fuse them into cards you own, and make the cards slightly better” with incremental scaling a la Clash of Clans. It was garbage.
  3. Warp Points. Hey, what if we made it so each area is instanced with other players? And they showed on the map? And if another player was on top of a warp point you wanted to go to, you couldn’t warp to it, because you would click on their name instead? And what if players spawned into maps near the quest givers, and went AFK, every time you wanted to go back and turn in a quest, YOU HAD TO WALK THE ENTIRE FUCKING WAY THERE FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MAP, BECAUSE XX_PLAINWALKERX_XX69 WENT AFK ON THE SPAWN POINT? And before I hear any “It (was) a beta” whining, if they hadtime to release the game with a fully functional cash shop, then they had time to test it with 10 people, and see what happens when one of them disconnects at the starting zone.
  4. The Worst Kind of F2P. Randomized booster packs of what amounted to in-game loot, and extra classes/characters. In a genre of game about building cool characters and acquiring loot. It was as shitty as it sounded.
  5. Capping Farming. I’m running out of steam at this point, but I wanna get a few more jabs in, so what the fuck was with the capped mana system? “You can play this much, but then you have to come back tomorrow, and you can’t get anymore loot until then!” In a genre that often ends up about farming for loot. I’m sure some incredible business genius in the backroom went “Oh, lots of mobile games have daily check-ins or something, lets do something like that!” Well, shit for brains, this game ain’t on mobile. They could have gone the Blizzard route, and added a mana charged buff and then after the cap, drop it way down, but they chose to implement it in the worst way possible.
  6. Gameplay. The gameplay just wasn’t fun. It just wasn’t. The idea of an ARPG with cycling abilities is cool, but it only works if there’s some reason to think about what abilities you’re using. As it was, there was no reason to not just spam everything the moment it was off cooldown and you had mana for it.

    So yeah. RIP In Peace, Magic: Legends. This Frankenstein’s monster attempt of combining an existing genre with some of the shittiest freemium mechanics ever to crawl out of mobile games, and a core game mechanic crippled by the aforementioned freemium bullshit will not be missed.

It should lie in its grave and rot.

Hunt: Showdown

The little Battle Royale that wasn’t

Ed Note: The screenshots in this article are from the Hunt: Showdown press kit. Getting good screenshots of the game is kind of tricky, because any time you’d want to get a screenshot of something cool, it’s usually trying to kill you. With that said, in my opinion, the game doesn’t look as good as its marketing material, but I also don’t care because the gameplay is what sells it.

Today, I’m gonna be talking about Hunt: Showdown, also known as “That Other Game Crytek Made” and “Wait, Crytek Makes More Than Engines?” I like Hunt: Showdown. A week ago Steam said I’d played about 70 hours, and I’ve played another 15 or so since then, so I feel fairly confident in that recommendation.

If I was forced to stuff Hunt: Showdown into a neat little box to characterize it, it would probably go in the “Battle Royale” box, with Fortnite/Warzone/PUBG. You can play with a squad of up to three folks, you want to shoot people, and you start on a massive single map. I don’t think this is entirely fair and accurate, though, because while the general intention of Hunt is similar to those other games (forcing interesting FPS based fights on a massive open map against other players), the way it goes about making this occur is pretty different.

For starters, there is no “looting phase” or “drop phase.” Instead, you create a loadout of items and weapons prior to starting a hunt, and once the hunt begins, you just spawn with your team on a random edge of the map. While you can pick up additional ammo and supplies from caravans around the map, and also other dead players, you don’t get to choose what you get from these, and so you mostly just have to make do with what you brought with you. Generally speaking, you’ll bring things like bolt action rifles, six-shooters, shotguns, and sticks of dynamite.

Also, unlike most Battle Royales, your goal isn’t to wipe out all other players on the map. You can leave more or less whenever you want by getting to an exit point, and waiting out the escape timer. And if you want to save your character (we’ll get into why you might want this in a bit) escaping like this can be the smartest choice.

Behold, the zombies. Stupid, slow, and not a problem until one that you miss stabs you with a meat cleaver.

Instead, the goal of a round of Hunt is to escape with a bounty token, an item that you get from either killing an AI boss monster, or prying it from the from cold dead hands of someone else who did. You locate the boss by picking up clues. Each time you pick up a clue, a section of the minimap gets closed off, letting you know the boss isn’t in that zone. After 3, you’re given the boss’s location.

And this is where things get interesting, because you’ll note I said “Boss.” See, Hunt’s map is fully populated with AI enemies, fairly basic trash mobs. And while these enemies are dumb as bricks, if you’re not careful, or a little too gung-ho, they can easily get you into trouble. Not because they do massive amounts of damage (they don’t) or can kill you quickly (most of them can’t), but because they force you to spend time or ammunition dealing with them.

It’s a spider made out of people! And yes, it looks just as horrifying close up as you might expect.

Okay, so I’m bored of writing about the general mechanics. This is enough to explain the general tension and what makes Hunt: Showdown interesting. In brief, all of the game’s systems are built to force you into fights, and the lower player count means that you only need to win 1-2 of these fights in order to “win” a match. The boss objectives mean that despite starting at different locations, players are funneled together, while the game’s sound design and AI means that if you find yourself using non-silenced weapons against monsters, enemy players can quickly locate you. The bounty mechanic puts a target on your head once you’re trying to escape, but it also gives you dark sight, a very minimalist wallhack sort of thing that lets you spot folks trying to ambush you, and make those end game engagements more even.

The one big thing I haven’t talked about yet is how loadouts and perks work, and while I don’t have too much to say, here’s the five second version:

Your “Hunters” have a level from 1-50, and whenever they successfully extract from a hunt, they get some more experience based on how they did (mob kills, boss kills, bounties, player kills). Each time they level up, they get a skill point that can be used to unlock passive perks, things like walking quieter, taking less damage from falling, that sort of jazz. If your team wipes in a mission, your Hunter is permanently dead, and there’s no way to bring them back, and you lose all the gear they had on them.

Gear is somewhat similar. Various actions during a match will pay out Hunt Dollars, which you use to buy gear. Different types of gear are unlocked as you level up your bloodline, and when you buy hunters they come with some of their own gear.

While you always have access to a pool of Hunters that includes at least one free Hunter to recruit, this free Hunter has random weapons and equipment, and no perks.

And this is one of the reasons you might choose to extract early: saving your gear and Hunter, and living to fight another day. It might not be worth much, but it can take 2-3 successful matches to get a Hunter to the cap, and losing them feels bad.

The end result is a game with some interesting character building systems outside of the actual gameplay, and solid FPS mechanics with a set of much older weapons. For me, the game feels like it’s built in a way to encourage and cause interesting gunfights, as opposed to being shot in the head by someone hiding twelve miles away in a cornfield, or simply losing because you couldn’t find a gun when you dropped.

This doesn’t mean Hunt is flawless. The loading times are incredibly frustrating and long. There are no death cams, just death views, which make it difficult to learn from your deaths, or if the person who killed you was hacking, which it can feel like even if they weren’t. For me, though, these downsides are annoying, but not enough to make the tense gunfights less fun, and the game itself less enjoyable.

Hunt: Showdown is $40 on Steam, and it’s also on PS4/XboxOne, but it looks like there’s no crossplay between consoles and PC. So if you do want to play it with friends, make sure everyone gets it on the same platform.

Chess Evolved Online

Did you ever look at Chess and think “Wow, I really wish Chess was more complicated, and that you could power up your units?” Well boy do I have the game for you.

I think Chess Evolved Online (or CEO as I’ll abbreviate it) is neat. If you like Chess, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t like Chess, you can save yourself the time of reading this article by closing your web browser and doing something else. Okay, lede dealt with. Time for a diatribe.

I write this blog about games at least in part because I consider myself pretty good at them, though in retrospect, “Experienced” might be a better word. I play a lot of games. There are many things that I’m not very experienced with, and so I don’t really comment on them, such as international relations, and agricultural policy. I still have opinions on them, but I don’t think they’re valuable to share.

I mention all of this because CEO has reminded me of something I forgot: I really, really suck at Chess. Or at least I really suck at it relative to people who play Chess at any level of actual competition or play.

I bring this up because after playing 12 hours of CEO, I couldn’t tell you if the game is balanced, or fair, or a good Chess equivalent or what. I could probably play 100 more hours, and I still wouldn’t have a good idea.

So instead of talking too much about that aspect of the game, I’m just gonna quickly list a few of the mechanical innovations CEO makes vs an ordinary Chess game, talk about the game’s meta progression structure and my thoughts on that, and then wrap up with a link to the game. I’m not gonna talk about balance or fairness, or whatnot, because I don’t think I’ll get any of it right. I’m also going to assume anyone reading this knows how Chess is played, and if you don’t, allow me to link you to the Wikipedia page on the game.

I did not win this.

So, new mechanics. Unlike in Chess, CEO has a different set of win/loss conditions: Morale. Each of your pieces has a value associated with it, which as far as I can tell, generally scales to its power/utility. The queen is worth 21 points, a bishop is worth 12, a rook is worth like 13. You get the idea. When your piece gets taken, you lose that much morale. If your morale hits zero, you lose.

Your king, on the other hand, is special. When your king gets taken, you lose an immediate 25 morale, and then an additional 3 morale per turn. The fairly obvious result of this is that while losing your king will eventually lead to a loss, unlike in standard Chess, it’s not an immediate loss. This has some interesting implications, like being able to trade kings, and also ending up in situations where you have to decide if sacrificing your king might be worth it.

The other special factor controlling the game is “move decay.” After turn 50, each player loses 1 morale at the start of their turn. This effectively puts a cap on how long games can go, and also means that in a game of attrition, whichever player can take a take an early advantage is likely to win. As far as I can tell, there are no draws in CEO.

There’s one last big mechanic in CEO: time. I’m not familiar with professional/semi-pro Chess, but a few quick google searches make it look like the game is limited is to about 90 minutes for your first 40 moves or so.

As you might guess, CEO doesn’t really go in for that. Instead CEO has two formats: CEO Blitz and CEO Standard. Standard gives you 30 seconds a move, after which you have a pool of 4:00 minutes. Blitz gives the same 30 seconds but with a pool of 2:00.

The result of all of these changes, at least to me, is the game feels far faster paced and bloodier than standard Chess. At the same time, the fact that losing your king isn’t a loss means that games can turn into brawls far faster than standard Chess.

So, those are the general changes to the game’s structure. Now let’s talk about the army building. Yes, CEO has army building.

There are a few factors that go into army building. The game has two types of pieces: champions and minions. In general terms, you can only place minions in the front row, and only place champions in the back row. Minions are weaker than champions, and usually (but not always) have a promote ability. This is where another interesting change comes into play: pawns always promote to bishops. This opens up some interesting space for weaker minions with stronger promotions.

Pieces also have a supply cost, and your army has to be under your supply limit. You increase said limit by reaching a higher rank. I don’t love this too much, but I’ll talk about why later.

Everything else about the game feels like a fairly unique attempt to fix some of the problems that Chess has. But how you obtain and upgrade pieces for your army feels fairly standard. Because, of course, pieces can be upgraded.

The game has two currencies, gold and gems. You earn gold by playing games, and you earn more by winning. You get gems by either exchanging gold for gems, completing various objectives, or opening random boxes.

Or spending real money.

And this is why I say it feels standard: The game loop becomes a pattern of grinding for currency to either buy units straight up at a in-game shop, or buy random booster boxes of units in the hopes of getting something you want. At the same time, you use duplicate units to upgrade your existing units.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a mobile game UI.

And this is where the game started to annoy me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not great at Chess, but all of a sudden the game starting feeling like a mobile game. I was no longer logging on to build unique armies or try interesting strategies. I was logging in to open daily boxes, playing ranked for currency to try to grind more boxes, and just generally playing the game solely to get more units. Instead of trying to build unique armies and innovate, I played the standard Chess army because I was more familiar with it, and I cared more about winning than experimenting.

Now, if I was better at Chess, this might not be true. Perhaps if I was a stronger player, I would find it easier to win, and as such be more interested in some of the other systems that make up the game. As it was, though, I ended up feeling like I wasn’t playing for fun, or to use the game’s unique systems, but to just grind to get more pieces. And this is where I stopped playing.

In summary, CEO’s actual gameplay containes a bunch of massive changes to the core structure of Chess, to try to make it more exciting and interesting, while also speeding up the pace of the game. But the meta-progression structure that exists around the gameplay feels like a standard mobile game, and it feels bad. If you end up matched against AI or players with higher ranking than yourself, in addition to likely being better at the game than you, they also have a larger supply pool to pay for their army. Even if you’re both playing identical armies, if they’ve upgraded their pieces, they have access to options and moves you don’t.

And that doesn’t feel great. And while I suspect that the actual mechanics of things like supply/value on units are probably balanced, it still feels bad to get decimated by someone with a unit you just don’t have.

Ed Note: The poster child for this particular experience is the ninja, a unit that feels like a knight on steroids, with the ability to take pieces in all directions that are adjacent, while also having a unblockable jump.

This just feels like bullshit.

Chess Evolved Online is free on Steam, with in-app purchases to buy additional rubies, which in turn get spent on buying units/random booster boxes of units. The game makes a bunch of really interesting mechanical changes to the base game of Chess, but it makes them parallel to a meta-progression structure that, for me, made the game feel like a grind. I still think it’s interesting enough that folks should check it out, but I feel like without a strong interest or background in Chess, you might end up having a similar experience to me.